Friday, August 29, 2008

Accomplishment #8: Determine Your Blood Type (#35)

Science class was never really my forte, and neither was math. (When the whole controversy came out about the Talking Barbie proclaiming, "Math is hard!" I agreed with her. Sorry. I know the whole empowerment of girls was the whole point, and I agree with that, but seriously? Like math is like totally hard!)

But there were some things in science that I loved. I even got extra credit points in sixth grade science class because I had EIGHTY-NINE observations about a burning candle. I sat in the windowless bathroom -- what my mom called "the powder room" -- with the door closed and stared at a candle, and wrote down 89 points I observed. I won a free sandwich -- my teacher took me and Heidi Khashabi (who only got like FORTY observations) out to a deli for lunch. I felt very sophisticated, eating a deli sandwich with my science teacher and dumb old Heidi Khashabi, while everyone else ate their homemade sandwiches and twinkies in the cafeteria. Sniff. Thanks, science class!

But there really were some things I loved. Sticking a piece of celery in colored water and watching the food coloring travel through its veins. Dissecting a rat, even though I pretended to be grossed out and I was to a degree, but there was something thrilling about it. (But the pregnant sharks and cats and everything else did, in fact, gross me out.) Memorizing the periodic table symbols. (Gold is AU! Neon is NE! I forget the rest!) And there were some things I hated -- long lectures, equations, the co-ed sex ed unit where everyone had to submit anonymous albeit embarrassing questions and no one could look at anyone else. God, I can still feel the utter horror and humiliation, sitting next to John Sutherland and wanting to die when our groovy teacher, Mr. Rago, said, "Masturbation is completely natural." OH MY GOD.

But yes, our junior high science teacher was, in fact, groovy. He was young, swingin', mustachioed, elbow-patched, drove an Alfa Romero sports car, and went on to be one of the inventors of Teddy Ruxpin, the terrifying talking bear toy. He referred to the young French teacher, Madame Bensley, as having a certain "je n'est sais quois," which we repeated to her and she blushed. All the "cool" teachers hung out at a local bar in Walnut Creek next to one of my parents' favorite restaurants, and I as always scared I was going to run into one of them as they sipped their cocktails and talked about what little shits we were. (Seeing teachers outside of school was always one of the most disconcerting things that could happen. I saw the music teacher, Mr. Dunkel, playing the stand up bass at my parents' friend's daughter's wedding, and it FREAKED ME OUT. He had a runny nose as he played the bass, too. I went and sat in the car.)

In high school, my science teacher was also groovy, but where Mr. Rago was "with it," Leon (we called him by his first name) was firmly stuck in the late 60's. He wore psychedelic shirts and rumor had it he smoked a bunch of pot at lunch with the guys in Shop. He hated my friend Tammy and me, and wouldn't let us sit together, so of course we made fun of him relentlessly, and wrote notes to each other from across the room. We also cut off the frog appendages during the dissection unit and then we threw them at people. Oooh, such the rebels.

But I liked some things about science, even though I never even thought about pursuing it. For one thing, there was the whole math part, which I started failing as soon as long division was introduced. (I overheard my teacher tell the aide, "Karen has no aptitude for math." And bingo! No aptitude for math.) And I was a diehard English student, where I excelled. Sometimes. Science was a class I endured, and with the exception of my 89 observations about a candle, I didn't go above and beyond. (Though I did sort of envy the nerdy boys who reconstructed a volcano, ala Peter Brady.) I figured that I would never need math and science in "real life," and coasted along, okay with the fact that I was not, in fact, a rocket scientist.

Funny enough, two things from those long ago science classes have stuck with me. One is the "Big B, little b" stuff from genetics. As in, two blonde, blue eyed parents can never have a dark haired dark eyed child (little b), because they have recessive genes and dark hair is dominant (Big B). (And being a redhead, I was always miffed and confused, because I didn't fit neatly into those traits at all. I was a mutant.) So when I see really bad casting in TV shows and movies, it makes me crazy. Even watching LOST, my favorite show, makes me twitchy because both of Jack's parents have super light eyes, and his are dark brownish green. But the worst perpetrator of this genetic casting failure was the show, "The Wonder Years."


Now, I loved that show. I really did. (And no, I never bought into the rumor that Paul was actually Marilyn Manson. Bah.) I was enchanted by Winnie Cooper and rooted for them to fall in love and get married, related to the episode about piano lessons, and sobbed at the finale. But the problem to me, week after week, that Jack and Norma, the parents, had blue eyes. Yet the adorable moppet Kevin and his super wacky hippie sister Karen had BROWN EYES. With the exception of Wayne's godawful mullet, he was the most realistic casting for the show. So see? I do use science in real life.

And the other thing was that I learned my blood type. (Aha! You thought I was meandering, off on a tangent. That's how I feel, but I'm getting somewhere.) At least I think I learned my blood type, because after all, I am not a rocket scientist and could have done it wrong. We had to prick our fingers with scalpels (the same ones we used for dissecting creatures pickled with formaldehyde, and they probably weren't even sterile) and then rub our blood on some special piece of paper, and then the antibodies or cells or whatever would attract to whatever chemicals and then, voila, we had our blood type.

I scrunched up my eyes tight and slashed my left index finger, sucking my breath in but not shrieking like the other girls. (Though I probably said, "Oh OW!" as I smeared blood on the piece of special paper.) It hurt like a BITCH. And then I got my results: AB.

I was puzzled. We had been told that AB was the most rare, and we could get ANY blood from ANYONE, but we could only give blood to other ABs. It made me feel selfish -- I could take take take, but what was the use of giving anyone my blood? And to top it off, all the cool kids in class seemed to have Type O, which made it the cool blood type. I couldn't even have cool blood. I tried again, but still it came back AB. I was doomed to be a universal recipient, not a universally cool blood person.

We were not sophisticated enough to determine whether or not we were positive or negative, and I still don't know that. I have never donated blood -- I feel that my blood is not only uncool, it is also completely polluted and if it ever ran in someone else's bloodstream, they would be poisoned on the spot, so therefore my omission of blood is saving someone's life. And the last time I had to do a blood test, I misunderstood and not only fasted, but didn't drink water, either. I was so dehydrated and it was like they were vacuuming my veins dry; I nearly passed out, but my disgusted fascination and embarrassment of how I messed up kept me awake.

So... yes, I know my blood type. The selfish blood type. And, inadvertently, discovering that has kept me from being a cutter (I cannot stand even a papercut) and an intravenous drug user. (Okay, that's not the only thing keeping me from that.) And maybe, just maybe, if I do #37 "Detox Your Body," I will be able to participate in a Blood Drive. But only if I can travel back in time like in "When Peggy Sue Got Married," because frankly, that's the only real appeal for me -- I do have selfish blood, you know.

Eight down, 89 to go.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Accomplishment not on the list.

I do have regular Accomplishments that are not featured in the tome, "97 Things To Do Before You Finish High School," believe it or not. Waking up in the morning -- now THERE'S an Accomplishment. Walking and chewing gum at the same time -- I'm a master at that!

And one thing I Accomplished that I'm quite pleased about: I fixed the comment part on the blog so that anyone -- not just blogspotters or Googlers or whatever -- can share their thoughts, their views, their dreams... and if you want to give me love, be my guest.

Back to regularly scheduled Accomplishing. When I actually do one. Pfffft.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Accomplishment #7: Create a Tasty Dessert (#64)

When I was little, I REALLY wanted an Easy Bake Oven. I didn't have any real culinary inclination; except for some botched attempts at "Tapping Heels Griddle Cakes" from my Nancy Drew cookbook, I was perfectly content to have my cake served to me and to eat it, too.

But I was fascinated by the commercials, as I was fascinated by most commercials back then. To this day, I can still sing the jingle for "Dancerella," the doll that spins while violins begin to play. (And I can also still sing, in order, all the snippets from the Connie Francis Greatest Hits double album set advertised during the Brady Bunch. Why they thought that would be appealing to a bunch of eight-year-olds I don't know, but it worked. I did buy Connie Francis' Greatest Hits, ten years later, because of those damn snippets.) I wanted a Lite Brite. I wanted Simon. I wanted Suckerman. And Speak and Spell. And Super Sugar Crisp and Bubble Yum and Baby Alive and anything else they shoved down our impressionable little throats. And I got none of them. (Though my best friend, Monica, got pretty much everything, so it was the next best thing. Speak and Spell was our favorite. It would say, "Spell 'automobile,' and we would type in, "F-U-C-K" and scream with laughter when it would tell us, "That is INCORRECT.")

This isn't the Easy Bake Oven Commercial I remember, but it's scary and mesmerizing, just the same.

But the Easy Bake Oven eluded us. I wanted so much to be able to stir a bunch of mix in a pan, shove it in a slot, and have it come out looking like a perfect little gourmet treat. It was amazing! But alas, I never got an Easy Bake Oven. Maybe my mom knew that I would use it once and realize it was BS and it would gather dust along with all the crap I just had to have. Or that I would be the kid who shoved my hand in the slot and melted my fingers together. (I was never, under any circumstances, allowed to play with Krazy Glue. Even as an adult I am absolutely terrified by it.) Or that she knew that if I wanted a cake, I could damn well do it the old fashioned way -- open a box, throw in some eggs and water, and put it in the regular oven and save her $14.99 or whatever for a smaller, more unstable version of something we already had in a much larger size.

But one summer, we went to Wisconsin for a big family reunion, and my cousin Katie brought along her Holly Hobbie Easy Bake Oven rip off. I was thrilled. I mean, it wasn't as cool as the groovy real life Easy Bake Oven -- Holly Hobbie had that prairie or whatever thing going, so it looked more like a cast iron stove than a miniature oven that would look smart in any orange contemporary kitchen, but it would do. I could finally realize my Easy Bake dreams!

So we set about making a chocolate cake. We mixed the packet, added water, shoved it in the slot... and out came a muddy looking burnt pancake. Our less than mediocre frosting skills made it look even worse, and it tasted like burnt feet. I was terribly disappointed, but Katie just shrugged it off. That's how all the cakes turned out, she explained philosophically, but the fun of it was in the preparation. (She was two years younger than me, so at 8 she was far more practical than I would ever be.) And my mom was right -- I thought that was total bullshit. Later on in the week Katie and I got into a fight, and I took my cousin Ricky's Slime and put it in a pan and baked it in the oven as revenge. It was a smelly mess and I grudgingly apologized, but later that night I got trapped in the cabin's bathroom and the fire department had to come and get me out, so all Easy Bake sins were forgiven and forgotten in the traumatic melee. And thus ended my yearning and fascination with Easy Bake Ovens, though I did, I admit, enjoy the Slime part.

I had put Easy Bake Oven out of my mind, until two years ago they became all the rage again. A certain young friend wanted one really really really bad for Christmas, and understanding her desire, I set about finding her one. She also has more of a culinary inclination than I do -- she loves to bake cupcakes. (Actually, I wind up doing the cupcakes and she does the sprinkles. I see a bright future for this girl.) And I searched high and low, but they were all sold out. Everywhere. It was even on the news.

Yet somehow my mother, who adamantly refused to buy me one when I was a kid, managed to find the only Easy Bake Oven in five counties and bought it for my little friend. And instead of feeling resentful or deprived, I was secretly stoked. Finally! I would get a chance at a real Easy Bake Oven! That Holly Hobbie Oven was just crap. I would totally make a perfect miniature cake with pink swirls and the whole nine yards. Watch out, Betty Crocker! There's a new Easy Baker in town!

Easy Bake Oven
Today's Easy Bake Oven. Not as cool as the one I coveted.

The first time we played with it, we burned (literally) through all the packs and made all the cakes, and, of course, I was a bit disappointed. Okay, I'm not a perfectionist by any means -- my cakes all look like they're about to slide off the plate and straight into the garbage can -- but these tiny cakes all looked like flat little cookies. Messy and ugly cookies, the ones from the first batch that burned so they're at the bottom of the plate and still there when the party's gone home. And to be fair -- I couldn't hog the whole process. Even though my little friend was only 4 at the time (according to the box she wasn't even allowed to TOUCH an Easy Bake Oven until she was 8), she wanted to do it all by herself with the help of her older brother. So we had that going for us in the looks department. And they didn't exactly taste like Magnolia Bakery, either. I know, I know, you add a teaspoon of water to a pouch of powder and what do you expect, really... (um, deliciousness? DUH.) And being the adult, I had to worry that my little friend or her brother were going to jam their beautiful little fingers into the fiery hot orifice and melt their skin and burn the house down or be upset that the cakes were crap. Which, admittedly, made the whole Easy Bake process less appealing than it did thirty years ago.

But -- she didn't seem to mind the cruddy outcomes. "It's the baking that's fun," she declared, much like my cousin Katie on that long ago day in the cabin in Wisconsin. And that's when I realized that I have never been, nor would I ever be, cut out for Easy Bake Street.

So the Easy Bake Oven has been sitting in her closet for the past year and a half, untouched, until she somehow got it in her head that we simply had to do it today. Her dad promised her, and so somehow we wound up at Target, spending $5 per package when we could have bought a box of mix for a non Lilliputian cake that would feed more than an ant for less than $2. She thought about her options, and chose "S'mores Snacks."

Once home, she dragged out the Easy Bake Oven and got to work. She added water to the graham cracker mix (two teaspoons, aka the star spoon), she stirred, her brother plugged in the oven, I worried about their fingers. She grew bored with the stirring and I smeared it into the pan. Her brother shoved the cake in the oven, I set the timer.

After the alloted ten minutes, we took it out and it was still goop. We put it back in for ten more minutes.

After that ten minutes, it was still goop. We put it back in and distracted ourselves by making the chocolate frosting.

After that ten minutes, it was still goopy and much of the chocolate frosting was gone, though when I asked where it went she said, "I don't know!" (Words out of a mouth covered in chocolate frosting.) Her brother had given up and went to watch TV, and she sat and put sprinkles in the teaspoon, one by one.

A few minutes later it was dinnertime, so we gave up on the S'more and just left it. After she played with her Boca Burger and ate about two bites, she announced she was too full to eat anymore. (But she still had room for dessert. Funny how that happens.)

We checked on the S'more base, and it was still not done, and finally realized that the Easy Bake Oven was bunk. It had smelled funny earlier and I figured it was dusty, but I suppose it was the Oven dying from neglect. So we shoved the pan in the regular oven, and five minutes later, we had a round graham cracker that looked like a Boca Burger, the very thing my little friend didn't want to eat five minutes before.

So she made the marshmallow cream (one teaspoon of water and a bunch of sugary powder) and we smeared it on the S'more, and then it was time for what was left of the chocolate frosting.

And voila:
EZ Bake Sunday

It only took three hours, but there it was -- the S'MORE.

Granted, it didn't like like the promised Easy Bake confections advertised on the packets:
Easy Bake Oven
The S'more Snack is in the middle, next to the heart cookie on the cookbook.

But seriously, who the hell can decorate those cakes like that? Teeny, tiny cookies with little teeny tiny flowers? And that elaborate marble thing they've got going? I mean, talk about setting kids up for failure!!! If it weren't so ridiculous, I would have been mad. Instead I was tired of the three hour S'more and ready for it to be over.

My little friend thought something was lacking as well. So she added some pizazz:
EZ Bake Sunday

Okay, so it's not Christmas, but it's certainly festive.

And then we all dug in -- four of us ripped that S'more apart, but the Little Easy Baker and I got the last bites. We licked our fingers (though she also wiped hers all over her dress, which I'm sure Julia Child did, too) and congratulated each other for a job well done.

And I have to admit -- it was damn tasty.

Seven down, ninety to go.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Accomplishment #6: Try a New Hairstyle (#88)

The one thing I accomplished on my staycation was that I went and got my hair done. (I love saying that. I sound like I'm 100 and my name is Ethel.) New cut, new color, new lease on life. (Well, not really, but my bangs were getting awfully long.) Because of the blog I debated going whole hog and getting a whole new 'do, but in the end, I got the same old, same old. But this is definitely something I already had accomplished in high school and well beyond, so I didn't feel so bad.

My hair has always been the bane of my existence. As a kid, it was a bright, angry red -- so red that old ladies would grab me and tell me, "I wish I could bottle your haircolor!" I heard that all my life and I would scowl -- being the one redhead in the class was trying. (Hint: "Karen" rhymes with "Red Baron." What a joy grammar school was.) It set me apart in a bad way, and I shirked under the massive responsibility of looking like a giant blowtorch. And I didn't care that old ladies wanted my haircolor -- all I wanted, desperately, was for my hair to be thick and blonde and to not to have three giant cowlicks (two in the front, one in the back) and in junior high -- to feather perfectly.

Alas, it was always fine and it had to be washed daily, lest I looked like I had "the greasies" that Agree shampoo promised to take away. (In hindsight -- wouldn't any shampoo wash the grease out of your hair? Ahhh, 70's and 80's advertising!) But even clean it was limp and red and awful. I could never fit in with the popular girls with their big, sausage-y feathers, Gloria Vanderbilt and Chemin de Fer jeans, and eight gallons of Kissing Potion.

Luckily for me and not-so-luckily for my parents, I discovered NEW WAVE and never looked back. Sure, my hair wasn't looking as bitchin as the girl from Human League or as crazy as Banarama or kooky like Cyndi Lauper or anything like that, but at least with a subculture, feathering was out. Thank God. I chopped, sprayed, ratted, moussed, gelled, and horror of horrors, had a wee tail in ninth grade (eeeeeee!!!!! KILL ME, I KNOW). I grew it out, cut it off, grew it out, cut it off... Ironically, even though I didn't have to worry about feathering or perming, I still agonized over my hair just as much as I had before. So it goes in the life of a teenager.


One thing that I was never allowed to do was color it. My mother had preached to me for so long on the merits of having red hair that I couldn't do much of anything. I tried using chamomile shampoo that turned it lighter, and sprayed Sun-In on my bangs to try to make blonde streaks, and once used a temporary pink dye that got me grounded until it washed out. It wasn't until my sophomore year in college, away from the watchful eye of my parents, that I took some serious action.

I had finally gotten a car in LA, and my hair was getting a little long. And, I found, that it kept getting in my mouth as I was driving along with the window down, and I figured that was probably a good excuse as any to go get a haircut.

So I went to the mall, and there was a salon there. Oh GOD. It was one of mid-late 80's salons called something awful like "TRENDS 2000" with neon and fake NAGEL PRINTS on the wall... stark white, otherwise, and chrome and black leather chairs and tables... and really loud crappy new wave music and the girls working there had eyeshadow out to their hairline and hair that looked crunchy. And the whole place smelled like Sebastian hairproducts and Poison perfume.

And yet I thought, "Hmm, cool."

So I went in and got the one ambiguously straight guy working there, which was okay because he didn't look like something out of Kajagoogoo or Bon Jovi. His name was Matt or something. And he got all excited, claiming I was SO COOL (so not cool) and he wanted to do my hair FOR FREE and do crazy things to it, would I mind?

And since I was far from home, and far from my conservative parents' disapproving eye, I said, "Hell yeah!"

And that's how I wound up with a black bowl cut with "cyclamen" and "platinum" streaks. Good God.

Ventura Photobooth 1988 PICNIK

It was the most drastic thing I had ever done, and I was thrilled. Black was definitely not my color (DUH), but I felt like I was, like, totally expressing myself. Once bitten by the CRAZY BUG, I went off and did more. I bleached the black out (NOT a good idea by the way) to platinum, rubbing violet Roux "White Minx" rinse in it to make it whiter. From there I grew it into a bob and dyed it Flamingo Pink, and someone in my class said, "Your hair is the same color as the stripe on the binder paper." And, as you can imagine, my parents were absolutely thrilled. My mother's face fell when I walked through the door.

1988 at Disneyland1988 Petersen Dorm

And then it was all sorts of wacky -- more blonde, more tips, more pinks and oranges -- until my roommate looked at my roots and said, "You know, your hair isn't growing in red anymore. I think you completely fried it."

My mother's lifelong preaching made me panic, and I realized that red hair really was a huge part of who I was. If I had been born with thick blonde hair, would I have sought out other alternatives, discovering things I loved? Or would I have just been content to quietly mingle with the other girls, jumping off the bridge if they jumped, too? (Or would I have been just as geeky? Um, yeah. No doubt about it. Who am I kidding?) I promptly dyed my hair back to as close to the original color as I could get (the old ladies were right -- it wasn't in a bottle)and watched with relief as it grew back in, and spent many happy years with my natural haircolor.

And a funny thing happened. All those years of wishing I were blonde, it happened. I had an ex boyfriend who was an insane driver -- his big quote was "I drive better drunk than my grandmother drives sober" -- and my hair started turning white. I'd get out of the car and my bangs would have white running through them from the stress of being in a car with him. We broke up, but my hair kept getting lighter and lighter. Finally, I had to resort to dye. And they still don't make my natural haircolor in a bottle.

Now I go back and forth between red and blonde (the blonde because of sheer laziness when the red fades), long and bobbed. When I went to Paris a few years ago I cut it short, and instead of looking gamine chic, the first day there some crepe guy asked if I was my friend's mom. Au revoir short'n'sassy. And for a while there last year it was pink again, though that was less on purpose and more because of the red shampoo I was using. I enjoyed it while it lasted.

And now it's red with white streaks, the usual. So I didn't change it for the blog, and that's just as well. But I'll get the crazy bug again, I'm sure, and do something radical like a BOB. Or lavender. But until then, I discovered this website that will satiate my thirst for new hair:


Look! I can have sausage feathers after all!

Six down, 91 to go.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Accomplishment #5: Start a Collection (#2)

Okay, this one, for me, is sort of a joke. I've been accomplishing this since I was old enough to have quarters for the gumball machine, so I could buy ALL the miniaturized soda cans(including the coveted YooHoo, a drink that I had never seen), plastic "crystal" animals with less than perfect paint jobs, and anything else that came in those plastic containers with the pop off lids. Even the sounds of the transactions gave me a rush -- the insertion of the quarter, the creaking scronk of the handle, the tumbling of the prize down the chute. Then the flipping open of the little silver door, and there it was, the crapshoot -- would it be that miniature replica of a can of Yoohoo? Or would it be yet another Tab? (From the sounds of it, I should have become a compulsive gambler.)

I collect a lot of, well, crap. I mean, I, personally, think it's all cool, but some people might -- and do -- find it all to be a bit questionable. (And NO, I don't collect old TV guides, newspapers, or doodle-loom toilet paper cozies.) Many people have come over to my house and have said, weakly, "Wow. You have a lot of stuff." (Then there are those who come over and say the exact same sentence with the opposite inflection -- and they get invited back.) The real challenge and accomplishment for me would be to STOP collecting. But there's no fun in that, really.

So yeah, it all started with the gumball machines, and then it escalated into books. Nancy Drew books, to be exact. Robin Noble lent me The Mystery at Lilac Inn in third grade, and I was utterly enchanted. The next day, I begged my mom to buy me a Nancy Drew book for my very own, and The Clue in the Old Stagecoach (WHY that one, I don't know) went onto my shelf. I was so intrigued by Nancy Drew; she was the epitome of fabulous. She wore pretty cotton frocks, ate in smart tearooms, had chums George and Bess (and her oh so compliant football star boyfriend Ned)... and she solved lots of dangerous mysteries and didn't seem to suffer any consequences from repeated run-ins with Chloroform. She was fantastic, and I was addicted to Nancy Drew. When I found out there were other editions from the "olden days" with different stories and covers and illustrations (my babysitter gave me her mom's old ones), my life was set: "My name is Karen, and I am a junkaholic."

Thirty-two years after the Clue in the Old Stagecoach set me on my course for adventure.

As you can see by that picture, I collect a lot of books. And 1950's - 60's teenage junk. And Fiestaware, Bauer flowerpots, California pottery, salt and pepper shakers, ladyhead vases, bathroom fish, 1940's Pendleton jackets, vintage eyeglasses, 45s, ceramic panthers, planters, vintage cookbooks, starburst Oneida, pyrex, atomic barware, poodles, pins, travel scarves, lucite purses, vintage magazines and comics... You name it. If you can find it at an old lady's estate sale, I have to have it. And I'm one of those people that doesn't even care if it's not perfect, because I always think that if I'm getting it, it's going to a good, loving home. (Jon won't even buy a rare "Champagne" or "Tiger" men's magazine for a buck if it's not PERFECT, as witnessed today. Pffft.) And as much as I drool and admire them, those wonderfully perfect and spare mid-century houses -- I could never do it. I have way too much junk to achieve that perfect aesthetic.

Yep, I just might wind up like Grey Gardens. As soon as I start collecting live cats and raccoons.

I know that there's all this psychology hoo-ha surrounding collectors -- we were deprived (hardly), abandoned (nope), the whole anal retentive Freud thing (oral fixation, thankyouveddymuch), the hoarding need from early human archetype (read Clan of the Cave Bear a long time ago)... whatever. There might be some truth to some of it -- I probably wanted to be Nancy Drew, therefore I wanted to possess Nancy Drew. (Aha! I just saved myself a ton of money on therapy -- all the better to be spent on more old crap!) Or I think the world is the pits, and want to go back to a gentler, easier time. (Yeah. If it were the 1950's, I'd be an old-at-40 wanton slut the whole street gossiped about for living in sin with my divorced boyfriend. And as much as I love and wear the clothes, I HATE girdles and heels.) Or I just simply like vintage things -- they are so much more beautiful and fun and really, it's the best of both worlds. I can have 1950's chafing dishes, but fix the whole damn meal in the microwave. Wheee!

So I grappled with this accomplishment, because if anything, I couldn't really start yet another collection. I have too much already, and adding ON to an already started collection would be CHEATING.

But lo and behold, the problem was solved for me today with the best find EVER:

The best find of the day.

A collection of 1950's teen menstruation pamphlets!!!

I nearly died when I found them at a yard sale today and asked the lady "How much?" She laughed and said, "Aren't they funny? A dollar." Rather than fainting on the spot, I whipped out a dollar. (Well, more, because I bought a turquoise ringed bowl, corn S&P shakers, and a little girl's scrapbook from the 1950's. Score!) I've always been fascinated by them, and have a copy of the one I had in the 70's: a very groovy version of "Growing Up and Liking It." I even used it as reference in school for a memoir I wrote called "Growing Up and Hating It." (But it got referred to as a "Period Piece" for obvious reasons.) And it's not cheating, because I already had ONE teen menstruation pamphlet that is such a riot, so because I got 5 today makes it a bona-fide collection.

For some internals, go here:

And lest you think that all my collections sit around and collect dust... well, you're sort of right. But I had validation -- my first and beloved collection, the Nancy Drews, were used by Chronicle Books for their stationery sets:

My claim to fame

So my collection brought joy many times over to people other than me. That's what it's about right?

And now, if anyone wants to make 1950's teen menstruation pamphlet stationery, I'm all set to help out!

Five down, 92 to go.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Accomplishment #4: Connect With a Role Model (#9)

I've had a lot of role models in my life -- my glamorous second grade teacher Mrs. MacArthur, Dorothy Parker, Neely O'Hara (you can see how my life has turned out)...

But most all of, my main and most honorable role model has been Judy Blume. (Sorry, Dottie. I love you and probably relate to you the most, but you were a drunk and now quite dead, so connecting with you is somewhat impossible though I do toast in your honor at The Algonquin twice a year.)

The first Judy Blume book I ever read was Blubber. I found at at a book sale in our library -- I can remember it with such clarity -- even how the sunlight shone on the array of books. And there it was:


The cover art looked so REAL! And the writing inside was just as real -- people being mean to the fat girl and then turning on each other. TOTALLY! It was just like my school! (And bonus: I learned what a flenser was. Someday, maybe, I'll be a flenser for Halloween, too, with gold sparkle boots.) I gobbled all Judy Blume books up, and every time a new one came out, it nearly gave me an apoplectic fit.

They were the first books that I could actually relate to, and that absolutely terrified me. (I know they weren't supposed to, but let's face it -- nocturnal emissions? Getting your period? Eating a TURTLE?) And I read them over and over and over and over and over again.

Around the same time, I decided to be a writer. Specifically, a young adult writer, just like Judy Blume. I solemnly announced this to my father in the kitchen one day. "Make sure you get a day job," he said. (He was right.) And then he said, "You might not want to be a kids' writer forever -- you might decide to be an adult author as you grow older." (He was wrong.)

Deeply saddened that my hopes and dreams were dashed by my dad, I decided to write to the one person who could understand: Judy Blume herself. And oh, how I wish I had that letter. It was on Hello Kitty stationery (I told you, I was a BIG FAN), complete with drawings of Hello Kitty (because there weren't enough on the actual paper itself, I guess), sparkly stickers, and in my best handwriting with Hello Kitty markers that were about an inch long. And it was SEVEN PAGES.

I felt that Judy was my best friend in the universe. I wrote out all my writerly dreams to her, and then added about a dozen PPSes because I kept thinking of all the neat stuff I wanted to tell her -- that my dog's name was Spot, I liked horses, boys were crummy, and my favorite: that if she dedicated one of her books to me, I would be forever grateful. (Though I'm sure I spelled it "greatful.")

I was very proud of my letter. So proud, in fact, I read it to my mother. If she were secretly jealous that I was spilling all of my deep, dark secrets to Judy Blume ("I hate mushrooms! Do you?")and not to her, she didn't let on. When I got to the part about dedicating the book to me, she winced. "I don't think you can ask that," she said.

"Why not???" I said. "I am her BIGGEST fan."

"Oh, I'm sure you are," said my mom. "But Mrs. Blume might have a lot of other people she would like to dedicate her books to. She's never met you, so she might not do it and you would be disappointed."

I wrestled with this and took it back to my room, where I re-read the letter carefully. I decided to follow my dreams and stuffed it into the matching Hello Kitty envelope and, as usual, never mailed it. Thank God. I can only imagine that I found it much later and ripped it to shreds in horror. (By then I was probably already worldly enough to have read Forever. Page 81, girls. Page 81.)

So I never actually contacted Judy Blume, though I continued reading her books -- as a teenager they were a guilty pleasure that took me back to a simpler time, when I actually didn't have my period and the pressures of teendom were fun to read about instead of experiencing them firsthand. Later on, my friend Leslie saw her at a signing and took a picture for us -- Judy Blume in the distance -- and we were thrilled. When I was applying for grad school, Leslie sent me an article about Judy Blume and wrote at the top, "You can do it, Karen! Love, Judy" and I hung it on my wall. I wound up going to grad school, and while there, her books were part of the curriculum in my YA classes, and I wrote a long memoir piece with Are You There God, it's Me, Margaret at its center. So Judy Blume has never left me after all these years.

Then, a few years ago, I was at ALA in Chicago, and found out that Judy Blume -- THEE Judy Blume -- was going to be doing a signing a few booths over. I asked my boothmate if I could go, explaining how important it was, and she said yes. I went and stood in the long line, behind a horrible nerdy woman who would not shut up. I was super excited and feeling a bit guilty about leaving my partner alone in the booth, and was planning on saying a quick, "Hello, nice to meet you, I love your books." Nice and simple. No big deal.

Soon we were at the front of the booth, and it was Nerd Girl's turn. And as she had been the half an hour in line, she was the same way with Judy Blume. She would not shut up, even though the handlers were trying to push her along. She was ENCROACHING on my 10 seconds with my idol! She stood and yapped while judy took my book and signed it, and then, finally, she looked at me and smiled.

And I burst into tears.

I think I was more surprised by my reaction that she was -- it's probably happened to her countless times. I sobbed and hiccuped and told her that she had changed my life, I wanted to be a writer because of her, I LOVED her and wrote her a letter in fourth grade and never mailed it... and she stopped everything and took my hands and looked at my nametag. "Karen, are you published yet?" she asked.

I shook my head and snuffled.

"You will be," she said.

It was like being blessed by THE POPE. All the handlers were laughing, and asked if I wanted a picture with her. DUH! I looked like crap but it was me and JUDY BLUME.

The Pope

And, of course, I went home and told everyone about it. And then a few years later there she was again at ALA, and I went and stood in line, and didn't QUITE burst into tears again, but got overexcited nonetheless and she told me to get cracking on my writing, and she laughed when I told her that she was The Pope.

I look a little too excited and she looks a little weary:
Me and Judy Blume!

So, yes, I did connect with my role model, and she was amazing. I don't know if it's exactly an Accomplishment, because it was happy kismet that I was there at the same time, but it did enrich my life. She did a reading at a local bookstore and I didn't attempt to go up front, because it's way more important for the kids -- the current and future generation of Judy Blume fans -- to meet her. I'm lucky that I've met her twice.

And, actually, she DID dedicate a book to me after all:

More for the blog

Four down, 93 to go.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Accomplishment #3: Take Care of a House Plant. (#81)

I have what I would call an "olive" thumb. It's not quite black because I don't kill EVERY plant I get, but it's not green because my plants don't exactly look all that lush. Some of them I've managed to keep alive for years, such as a monstrous Christmas cactus that is starting to look like the plant thing on "Night Gallery." (That freaked me out when I was little.) And two dracaena (Dracaenas? Dracaeni? Dracanae? Whatever), but Norman has started eating them. And honestly, I don't do too much to them. I water them when I remember, or if they look dead.

But the book says that taking care of a houseplant can enrich your life. And it will clean the environment while adding "jungle chic." Well hot damn, I want me some of that jungle chic!

So I got myself a bromeliad. Sometimes I like a challenge. (And it matched the new pot I scored at a yard sale. A girl has her priorities.) I've had one before, and I thought I killed it because it looked like a rotting flesh wound after a few months. Seriously -- it was gross. But it may, in fact, just have been in an in-between stage. I didn't know and just threw it away in disgust. The little card that came with this one says it grows PUPS. PUPS! That is scary!

The winner

My friend Enid gave me this advice:

Your Big Ol' Pink Bromeliad? It should last a long, long time...After the flower gets all shrively, cut it off and keep water in the center part of the plant. (Don't water at the dirt.) Eventually the plant will get nasty looking, too, but put it out on the porch & water every so often. A new baby plant, (a clone of it's Ma,) will sprout next to it. Good luck. This takes forever! I have these in various stages of decomposition and new growth! Just hide 'em behind something else.

Well, then. It's not just a plant; it's a PROJECT. Jon already watered it because he thought it was a regular plant, and somehow I have not given it the love and attention it deserves, because its leaves are turning decomposed-flesh-wound-yellow. Already. Stupid bromeliad. I did, however, move it away from the window. I'm trying here, people.

But the book says to talk to your plant, and it will flourish. So I tried. I can usually talk to anything or anyone -- to chairs, doors, the person on their cell phone driving too slow in front of me, homeless people who tell me I remind them of someone they knew in 1966... But I must admit -- this challenging plant with its big ol' flower made me feel shy.

And I can't think a name. I pressed Norman for help, but he was useless. He talked to me all morning, but I think the plant makes him shy, too. (Unless he's eating it when I'm not looking. Which is very possible.)

So now I have to take care of this house plant -- which will probably be more trouble than taking care of the cat -- and name it. If you have any ideas, please let me know. I'm at a loss, but I am leaning toward Zsa Zsa. It's such the prima donna plant.

I will keep you updated of its progress.

So, in a way -- 3 down, 94 to go.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Accomplishment #2: Make a Public Speech (#11)

Back in high school, we used to go to this "underground" nightclub at the Kabuki Theater in Japantown called "Noh Club." (I thought that was very clever, as I had learned that Noh was the art of Japanese Theater or something. But then my mom, when I got caught sneaking off to go said, "You're not going to any NOSE Club." I can understand her mistake, but I was still, like, totally horrified at her gaffe. SO uncool. And I went anyway.) It was the mid-eighties, so you can only imagine all the fashion and hairstyles. I think Noh Club alone is responsible for a part of the hole in the ozone layer.

I always went with my best friend at the time, Traecy. And somehow, and I'm not sure how we pulled it off, we always got a hold of at least 4 wine coolers to split among like 12 of us. Party!

One night, fueled by a few heady sips of the magical Bartles & Jaymes elixir, she turned to me and gave me a dare. "If you stand at the top of the escalator and clap twice and say, 'Ladies and gentlemen! Today's your lucky day! Pancakes on the house!' I'll give you five bucks."

It made absolutely no sense, and that's why I liked it. I also needed five bucks. So I stood at the top of the stairs (probably wearing a kimono or something equally ridiculous, and lots of hairspray and eyeshadow), looked over at Traecy, and gulped. She smirked back at me.

I clapped twice and yelled my part. The room didn't exactly go silent, but a few people looked at me like, "Huh?" and one kid came up to me and said, "Where? Where are pancakes?"

And that was my first public speech.

Since then I have spoken in public a few times, though never again about pancakes. I have performed weddings (Being a minister of the Universal Life Church of Modesto, CA rules!)and given some pretty awful, champagne fueled toasts at receptions. I've climbed up on stages and bars at my birthday parties to give heartfelt and incoherent "cheeeeersh" for all my friends. And I've done a few readings, which have got to be the most nerve wracking and terrifying and thrilling public speeches of all. But thanks to Traecy and the pancakes -- it's pretty much been uphill ever since. (Because let's face it -- how can you plummet from THAT?)

Last night, in fact, (which makes it nice timing) I got an audio file of a reading I did back in June at The Knockout, for the Rebel Reading Series (all about being a geek and loving the Go-Go's) so that I could upload it to a very cool site, It's a site where writers can upload audio of their readings and work, and network, too. Check it out!

And if you'd like to give my reading a listen, click here:

Warning -- it's my 20:17 minutes of fame. I swear it wasn't that long when I practiced, clocking in at a solid 15 minutes, just like Andy Warhol said to do. Ugh.

In any case, this completes yet ANOTHER Accomplishment. I am on a roll!

Two down, 95 to go.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Accomplishment #1: Create a Journal (#3)

And so it begins!

Okay, so I'm cheating a bit on this one. Just a bit. I've had many journals -- but I've never had a finished journal. (I even have a livejournal that I never update.)

But I have always loved the idea of a journal. After all, I've always wanted to be a writer, so therefore I should be journaling my daily experiences, even when I think they're stupid. Because when I read back on them, I am astonished by my remarkable insight, my clever wordplay, and extreme and noteworthy talent. Not to mention my creative spelling.

For example, here is my TRAVEL journal from fourth grade:
Junk for the blog

My parents took my older sisters and me to Hawaii for a week, so Mrs. Jones, my fourth grade teacher with a tight poodle perm and piggy nose, assigned me to write a journal all about my adventures. I was very diligent at first:

Junk for the blog

I like how I declare that "Hawaii is no different than Alamo really but it's on islands." And then a few sentences later I report that we saw all the sugar canes. Okay, I highly doubt that I saw ALL the sugar canes. And Alamo is the town where I grew up, and there are no sugar canes there. I can say with certainty that Alamo and Kauai are, in fact, very different.

But then I go on to have more adventures:
Junk for the blog

Obviously it was time to dazzle my audience with my cursive skills.

"Boy, is is super!" Notice how I was obsessed with bars, even back then. And always the victim, as my hamburger, apparently, was the only burnt hamburger on the island. I bet I sulked. In fact, I'm sure of it.

I may have actually finished this journal, as it ends with us checking out, though I forgot to put a period on the end of the sentence. But I lacked a finale. No quiet reflection on the plane all about how I had to eat poi, got a third degree sunburn with blisters, got sucked down by the undertow, jumped into the pool and landed on my nose and ripped the skin off... it was the best vacation EVER!

I didn't attempt a journal again until 1981, when I got this beauty:

Junk for the blog

I probably bought this for myself, as I loved Hello Kitty. I had a Hello Kitty address book, My Melody and Little Twin Star stamp sets, Patty & Jimmy toothbrush, and all sorts of smelly little markers and pencils and erasers that no fingers belonging to anyone over the age of two months can hold. LOVED them.

At that time, I was also on a big Anne Frank kick, along with YA novels about tragic female heroines who had cancer or polio and leg braces, written in diary format. I looooved those, even more than erasers that smelled like bubble gum. And I wanted to be just. Like. Them. I was hell-bent on writing my own diary, filling the pages that someday would be discovered in the secret annex of my bedroom, heralding my life as an aspiring young writer.

Junk for the blog

Convinced that I was going to fill the 500 pages, I wrote in tiny handwriting in pencil. And not only do I love the horrifically embarrassing warning about reading my horrifically embarrassing two diary entries, I even DREW A PENCIL -- you know, to ILLUSTRATE what I was all about. And all I was about was pants with parrots on the butt, candy, bubble-gum ice cream, and my thinly veiled attempt to convey my absolute hatred (while trying to sound, like, wronged) for Jenifer Laffoon who lived down the street and in the same carpool. And then all I say is, "Horrible report card." I'd like to hear more about THAT.

Kudos to me for writing again, just a day later:

Junk for the blog

And there I go, channeling my inner Anne Frank. I swear to God. The more tragic I figured my life was, the closer to heaven and Anne Frank I'd be. I probably wrote that and went and ate a bunch of Doritos and watched "Electro Woman and Dyna Girl." And for chrissake, the next day was my BIRTHDAY, and I know I had a party where I got a baseball tee shirt with a sparkly Pegasus decal on it. The Nazis were not about to bang on my door, nor was I going to be spending the summer in an iron lung. And a year later even I could recognize how pukey I was, even if it was scrawled in fury with a pen that ran out of ink. Given the time period and my love for them back then, I bet they were those erasable ones. They always stopped writing.

And so did I, but resumed a year later:
Junk for the blog

Already showing a glimmer of who I am today; I had found my VOICE. I like that I am 12 and I say, "Today was horibly stupid" and use the word "crap," which I still do on a daily basis. And then a few sentences later declare that "G.G.'"(for the record, Greg Gonzalez, the friend of my friend's older brother, whom I just stared at) is a babe. All the while seething with hate for my mother, who probably told me to stop eating so much candy and do homework or something.

Yep, this diary heralds the life on an aspiring young writer, all right. The hopes, dreams, aspirations, love of ice cream and hatred of my fellow carpooler of a future Pulitzer prize winner. And that's all there is, really.

Except for practicing my autograph:

Junk for the blog

But unlike this Hello Kitty mess and more forlorn livejournal, I am going to finish this blog. One down, 96 to go!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

I already feel Accomplished.

Okay, not really. Not at all. I have not yet mastered the 97 things, but last night I was able to tell my friends, "I have started a BLOG!" when they asked what was new. (Usually I say, "Eh, nothing." But then I yammer on for an hour about that nothing.) So actually having something started feels pretty good.

So back to the book, "97 Things to Do Before You Finish High School." Since I am a renegade scofflaw blogger (oooh, I just made that up and I like this new part of my identity), of course I do not have permission to reprint any part of the book, which is a shame. For one thing, it's not bad as far as writing to teenagers go -- some adults writing to teenagers is just massively cringe-worthy. This one isn't as much. But in this context including text... well, it's too bad because, let's face it, a grown adult doing some of these things is utterly ridiculous. Which is part of the attraction and also the heady SHAME I feel for not having accomplished these things by the time I was 18. Who knew that I would feel bereft at never having had done #64: "Create a Tasty Dessert"?

This is totally the type of book that my older sister would have given me, because it was a well known fact that I Did Not Work Up To My Potential. (I had that comment on my report cards dating all the way back to the 70's. I couldn't even COLOR up to my potential.) She would have given me this book, telling me that I could grow up and Be Someone, but then five minutes later tell me what a useless waste of space I was. (I can tell that #28, "Make Peace with a Sibling," will definitely be a challenge. As will #29, "Plan a (Cool) Family Outing.")

I do wish I had gotten this book, actually, when I was that age. Not that I would have done any of it -- I probably would have just read it and then thought about it a lot. (I'm a dreamer. Remember the whole Potential thing.) But it would have come in handy, and there are a few things that I did actually do back then (i.e. #82, "Get a Driver's License" and #35 "Determine Your Blood Type")and reading and recognizing that probably would have made me feel better about myself as a teenager because I had accomplished something. Not that I was a total loser as a teenager -- though, admittedly, I wrote some pretty CHOICE crappy poetry and journal entries -- but it was true. I didn't work up to my potential because I was too damn busy sneaking off to shows and having massive crushes on gay Mormon boys. (See? I just accomplished #89, "Confess a Crush." I'm on my way!)

But now is my chance! At 40, I am going to have Potential! And I actually invite you to Have Potential with me, or at least check out the inspirational book:

That's the Amazon link. But of course I highly recommend that if you do purchase it, please go to your local independent bookseller. We don't want them to go the way of the dinosaur and dodo. I will be buying a copy for my niece, the daughter of my older sister. She doesn't work up to her potential, either. (It runs in the family, I guess.)

So now I have to decide what to do first.


karen graduates
Me on graduation day, Friday, June 13th. So full of Potential. So doomed to mediocrity, thanks to not doing the 97 Things before I finished high school.

Friday, August 8, 2008

97 Things to do Before I finish, uh, today

Remember summer vacation when you were in high school -- June was the beginning of vacation, so it was easy to just waste the days because you had, like, MONTHS left. July was still smooth sailing, because September was still far away. But then August rolled around, and suddenly, you were in a panic. Summer was almost over, and every day became more and more valuable, because soon you had to go back to school and face homework, teachers, icky kids and early mornings. August was almost depressing.

But if you were me, faced with the August panics, the days didn't suddenly fill up with All The Things I Wanted To Accomplish. Nope, I still sprawled on the couch and watched "Dialing For Dollars" and talked on the phone with my friends, as we all whined about how, like, totally unfair it was that we only got, like, THREE MONTHS OFF. And I thought about all the things I could have done but never did.

And then there it was: school. Where everyone had new Trapper Keepers and dark blue jeans, and there was a sense of excitement that quickly wore off by day three. And then I went right back to wishing I were at home on the couch, watching "Breakfast at Tiffany's" on Channel 2's noon movie.

My whole life has been like that, really. Especially today. Today is the first day of my vacation, and the only productive thing I've done has been getting the mail. Oh, I took a three hour nap and looked at blogs and my hangover finally went away... so if you just trade the internet part for Channel 2's noon movie (oh, they had SUCH good ones back then), my life is pretty much the same as it was back then.

But, I'm changing that.

Let me backtrack. A few months ago I went to ALA, where my friend Rachael gave me a gem of a book: "97 Things to do Before You Finish High School" by Steven Jenkins and Erika Stalder. I flipped through it and laughed. About 99% of these things did I not only NOT accomplish before finishing high school -- 99% of these things I hadn't even accomplished in the 22 years since I graduated high school. I am not a well rounded person, I suppose. I have never made a podcast, hosted a film festival (unless "Beverly Hills 90210" parties count), nor do I know how to match beats like a DJ. (These are things, the authors promise, that are "about discovering new places, new hobbies, and new people -- and opening your eyes to the world.")


Which gave me an idea. This blog. I am going to go through this book and actually ACCOMPLISH these 97 things. (Within reason, of course. Such as -- number 94 is Build a Bonfire. That is illegal here in these parts, and, um, I'm not going to Burning Man. Ever.) Nor will I attempt #91, "Go Skinny Dipping." (That's should be illegal in my case, too.) Some of them I have actually done. I have, for example, accomplished #15: Thrown a House Party. (I have thrown many. And people are STILL talking about them. But maybe I'll throw another one, just in honor of this book.) I have also done #21: Sing Karaoke. (But then again, I have never sung karaoke SOBER. So I guess I'll need to try that.) And there are others I've done, but I'll just retell the tales to make myself feel better and More Accomplished.

Now, I don't exactly expect my life to change just because I'm going to do #53 "Create A Comic Strip" or #92 "Get an Astrology Reading." But my life just MIGHT change if I #81 "Take Care of a Houseplant"! I know these things are geared for a teenager, but better late than never, right?

We shall see.